I believe in the good of humanity and we can resolve any issue if we want to. This means we have to take action and actually do something. We can resolve this with dialogue. We can resolve this by listening and talking to each other. And, then we probably have to burn down some systems that don’t work so we can replace them with systems that do.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Ben Lamm is a serial entrepreneur dedicated to making the impossible possible. Ben is the Founder/CEO of Hypergiant Industries. Previously, he was the Founder/CEO of Conversable acquired by LivePerson, Founder/CEO of Chaotic Moon Studios acquired by Accenture and Team Chaos, acquired by Zynga.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
I was astounded when I read Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower. It’s a dystopian novel about the future written by one of the biggest female fantasy writers in the 1990s. The future it’s describing though is 2020 and while she imagined a more horrific version of our time, the ideas she imagined are very much alive at this moment. It’s a book about being thirsty for a better future and the work that even one person can do to create that future if they try. I really believe in that: One person can change the future but they must try and show up to do so.
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?
More is more. More justice is more justice. More equality is more equality. More innovation is more innovation. More is more is about the proof being in the pudding of what you are thinking and saying. To have more of anything, we need to create more. More leadership is about actually having more leaders.
I say this phrase all the time because I think people side step asking for and thinking about what they truly want. When I want more of something, the only solution is to find a way to get more. And, to that point, there is always more. We can have more equality, money, time, freedom, justice, ideas, advancements to society, protections to the environment — we just need to focus on it and deliver more. We are here on this earth for a purpose and we need to maximise our time here.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Leadership for me is about setting a vision. That’s what I believe a great leader does. They use their imagination and curiosity and creativity to set a vision that ultimately drives the cultural zeitgeist of the organization. When a vision is set, then the leader uses soft skills to help other people align to the vision but it’s never going to work if there isn’t a north star. At Hypergiant, our vision is to create the future we were promised. That’s ALL we care about. So, it guides every single decision we make, idea we shoot for and goal we set.
In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?
I don’t think its a secret that I live and breathe brand and I love hype. I do. I think there is nothing wrong with telling yourself you are going to kill it in a meeting before you ever get into the meeting. You must be your biggest fan. You must believe in yourself of no one else does. So, I believe. I believe that I am capable, that I will get what I want, and that it’s possible for me to have all of that and more. And, then I repeat that to myself before stepping into rooms and places and meetings that are high stakes.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. The United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This is of course a huge topic. But briefly, can you share your view on how this crisis inexorably evolved to the boiling point that it’s at now?
Americans are good at hiding problems under the rug. And we have done that with our history in a million categories for years. We have focused on short term gains and not long term solutions. Sometimes our American society just gets complacent and thinks it might be not terrible but not terrible is not enough. We have pretended that racism, erotic, and consumerism are not problems that impact society. You cannot hide things under the carpet because eventually there are too many things hidden under the carpet and the carpet no longer serves a point: it’s bumpy, lumpy and uncomfortable. When you find that to be the case, you have to air out the carpet. We have reached this point in America. We must address the issues in our past if we are going to move towards the future we want. Every fight is worth it. This one included. Friction is ok and key to progress and movement.
Can you tell our readers a bit about your experience working with initiatives to promote Diversity and Inclusion? Can you share a story with us?
I try to constantly surround myself with diversity in thinking. Diverse ideas drive innovation and change. Every single study put out demonstrates that over and over again. If you want to be someone that has a positive impact on the world through innovation, you cannot get there without surrounding yourself with diverse people, empowering them, and learning from their perspectives and experiences. I am incredibly fortunate to have the various people in my life. I still think I can always do better. Numerous people in history have talked about complacency being the enemy of progress and success. I strive to have the team around me pushing me to do better and challenge my beliefs and actions. At Hypergiant, our Chief Ethics Officer, Will Griffin has been a constant source of support and a trusted advisor to me far beyond his core role of ethical AI. There have been a couple critical points in our journey where he has been my key sounding board to help me solve some pretty complex problems. Also, Kristina Libby, our Chief Science Officer, constantly helps me zero in on are whether we are building the right platforms and investing in the right R&D and client relationships that will push humanity forward and live up to our vision of helping to create the world we were promised. I am wrong a lot and am thankful I have the support of the team around me to always help push me forward and stay true to our company’s values.
This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?
It’s just better business. Monolithic thinking produces monolithic results and that means stale boring products that no one really needs. The more ideas and the more people we have, the better all the ideas and innovation and resulting businesses will be. This means hiring for varied racial, erotic, orientation, educational, and career diversity but also ultimately looking for diverse thinkers. It’s not about a quota or stats, it’s about action, and not just surrounding yourself with diverse ideas but having the right level of humility to listen to them and follow their lead. I have some big dreamers and some detail focused people and some people who literally are thinking about technology that no one has even invented yet while others are trying to figure out how to perfect the latest machine learning tools. All of that is important if you want to create things that change the world. No one positively changes the world by getting together a bunch of people who all think and act exactly the same. When you do that you end up with genocide as the worst case and groupthink as the best case.
Ok. Here is the main question of our discussion. You are an influential business leader. Can you please share your “5 Steps We Must Take To Truly Create An Inclusive, Representative, and Equitable Society”. Kindly share a story or example for each.
- Have discussions with people who are different than you. This means talking to people who have different opinions than you and talking to people about what those opinions mean. These discussions are not about proving you are right; they are about educating and informing yourself and others. Do a lot of that. You will also find those conversations are way more interesting than the same old conversations with the same like minded people.
- Every fight is worth it. If you feel like something is an issue, have the fight and get through it. Do not hide those emotions, do not push them down and do not walk away from the problem. I am known for being someone who will have arguments with people in my office and this isn’t because I dislike them or think they are wrong. It is because I believe we need to have a steam valve for our anger. Fights help us work through things. We need to learn how to have them and then move past them. Conflict and friction are not bad things. Complacency is though. I cannot tell you how many arguments I have had that I felt convicted about but ultimately was wrong and left the conversation changed for the better and learning. I also promote having disagreements in my team and working through them.
- Hire lots of people who don’t look like you. You are you. That’s awesome but hire other people who are not just like you. These people bring new ideas, new talents and new perspectives to the table for you to ingest. That’s important. Without diverse people you miss things. I have a number of employees in NYC. During the COVID crisis they were going through way different emotional and social issues than we were in Texas. Having them on the team meant I was able to see how things were happening across the country and problem solve for our business in very different ways than if I just had a Texas only view on the crisis.
- Push the envelope. It’s not enough to do whatever people are saying you should do today. Do one better. Figure out what other people need to do. Yes, we need to hire more diverse people. But, we also need to ensure our education systems are training more diverse hires. But, we need to ensure kids aren’t hungry so they can go to school and get good grades. And, to do that, we need to make sure that kids are taken care of in their homes and their communities. So, yes we can hire more diverse people but also we need to do the work of the future and make sure we are creating a safe, more just, and a better educated America.
- Step down. If you are a business leader who does not think it is your job to create a better world for your employees and your community, step down. Don’t hide. Don’t think you can ride it out. Step up or step aside because the best business leaders aren’t the richest, they are the ones who run businesses that change the world.
We are going through a rough period now. Are you optimistic that this issue can eventually be resolved? Can you explain?
I believe in the good of humanity and we can resolve any issue if we want to. This means we have to take action and actually do something. We can resolve this with dialogue. We can resolve this by listening and talking to each other. And, then we probably have to burn down some systems that don’t work so we can replace them with systems that do. Our prison system is broken. Our education system is broken. Our healthcare system is also a complete disaster. Gradual fixes probably aren’t going to work. We need big changes done with the bulk of the population supporting these changes and with the understanding that change will be rough but we will be better for it. That’s all hard but it’s also possible. Our nation has been too complacent on social justice issues for way too long. It is not “good enough”. We need to be a leader in the world and we do that by leading through example and not force. We need to be the change we want to see in the world. I am so proud of all of the people who are standing up against injustice right now. The fight is worth it.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Neil DeGrasse Tyson. He is awesome. I am a huge fan and have some mutual friends, but he has done so much for science and making people love and appreciate the cosmos and our place within it. The more people we can inspire through science to learn and strive for greatness, the better the world will be.
How can our readers follow you online?
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!